Mads Ostberg has taken the early lead on Rally de Espana this morning with heavy rain making conditions treacherous.
Ostberg, who is running sixth in the order, was seventh quickest in the first stage of the day. However with conditions deteriorating in SS2, those further back were left at a disadvantage and the Norwegian was joint quickest with Ott Tanak, 17.5 seconds up on Mikko Hirvonen. Although the rain eased off in SS3, with Sebastien Loeb and Hirvonen coming through 1-2, Ostberg was still third, 2.8 seconds up on Tanak. That moved the Adapta Ford WRT man up into P1 and he now heads back to the mid-day service at PortAventura with a 2.7 second cushion over the Estonian.
“I think this morning has been good. We have been pushing hard and taking quite a lot of risks, but still making no mistakes. We are still here and I am very happy with that,” Ostberg said. “I wasn't expecting to be fighting for the lead. We were on the harder tyre so I was actually expecting to lose some time. I think the surface is getting worse for the cars behind us, but also we have been driving really well.
“We're pushing to the maximum everywhere and I don't see any places where we could have gone much faster! OK, we had a spin on the long stage [SS3] where we lost ten seconds, but apart from that, it has been really good. I see no point in looking back, so we will make sure we have the right tyre choice now and then just continue to push as hard as we can.”
“This morning has been OK,” added Tanak. “We made a mistake on the first stage [SS1] – we missed a junction and lost quite a bit of time there. Then we clipped a rock on the second stage [SS2] and damaged the steering a little. We made some adjustments during the road section, but still it was not perfect.
“Other than that there have been no problems and I am very happy – and actually a little surprised – with our position. It will be a difficult tyre choice for this afternoon, but we will see what happens and keep pushing for sure.”
Hirvonen meanwhile finished the loop in third place, 13.1 seconds off the lead, and 6.4 seconds up on Loeb.
“We survived, although it was not easy," Loeb noted. "I took some risks, but I also lost some time in a muddy area.”
Jari-Matti Latvala rounds out the top-five for Ford, but after setting the pace in SS1, he struggled in both SS2 and SS3, losing time with a spin in Pesells 1, and then he was just far to cautious in Terra Alta. The Finn lies more than 30 seconds off P4 and almost a minute off Ostberg.
“The rain removed the slippery loose gravel, but it was replaced with standing water instead,” Latvala said. “I eased off, but still spun in the second stage. In the last test there was a 12 minute gap between the start times of the car ahead and myself. It was raining so hard that the ruts had filled with water again when I started and it was so slippery. I couldn't drive any faster in those conditions.
“I opted for hard compound tyres on the front and soft on the rear and they were perfect for the first stage. If the rain had stopped, as we all expected, they would have been ideal for the next two stages also. But in the heavy rain, soft tyres all round would have been the right choice,” he added.
Further back, Jarkko Nikara shone on his debut outing with the Prodrive WRC Team and he heads the MINI attack in sixth, 14.3 seconds off Latvala. Evgeny Novikov is next up, followed by Chris Atkinson, Hans Weijs and SWRC leader, Craig Breen. Breen moved into the SWRC lead in SS3, when P-G Andersson lost time with a differential issue.
In terms of retirements, there were a number of casualties, most noticeably Petter Solberg, who hit a large block of concrete close to the finish of SS2 and damaged the suspension on his Ford Fiesta RS WRC car. Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen also went out in SS2, both hitting the same block of concrete that claimed 'Hollywood'. Martin Prokop joined them on the sidelines when he crashed out at the end of SS2, while Dani Sordo went off the road in SS3 and got stuck.
The action now continues this afternoon, with repeat runs through Pesells and Terra Alta and a short run through the 2 km Salou SSS.
SS4, Pesells 2, is due to start at 13.35 hours local time [12.35 hours British time].
Rally de Espana: Overall standings after Stage 3 (Top 10):
1. Mads Ostberg Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC 51mins 18.8secs M
2. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 02.7secs M
3. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 13.1secs M
4. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 19.5secs M
5. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 55.1secs M
6. Jarkko Nikara Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC +01mins 09.4secs
7. Evgeny Novikov Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 14.5secs
8. Chris Atkinson WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +02mins 32.6secs
9. Han Weijs Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +02mins 47.6secs M
10. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta S2000 +03mins 19.6secs S
11. Sebastien Ogier VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +03mins 51.2secs
12. P-G Andersson Proton Satria Neo S2000 +04mins 29.5secs S
13. Yazeed Al-Rajhi Ford Fiesta S2000 +05mins 27.7secs S
SWRC standings after Stage 3 (Top 3):
1. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta S2000 54mins 38.4secs S
2. P-G Andersson Proton Satria Neo S2000 +01mins 09.9secs S
3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi Ford Fiesta S2000 +02mins 08.1secs S
PWRC standings after Stage 3 (Top 3):
1. Yeray Lemes Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 58mins 04.9secs P
2. Marcos Ligato Subaru Impreza STi +00mins 02.1secs P
3. Michal Kosciuszko Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +00mins 17.5secs P
SS2. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC Hit a rock M
SS2. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior WRT Citroen DS3 WRC Hit a rock
SS2. Andreas Mikkelsen VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 Hit a rock
SS2/3. Martin Prokop Czech Ford National Team Fiesta RS WRC Crashed
SS3. Daniel Oliveira Brazil WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Went off M
SS3. Dani Sordo Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC Went off
all times unofficial